Nothing brings out differences between two people more than a new baby. From the moment you walk into the house with your first child, you discover that you and your spouse are a team working for the common goal of nurturing and raising another human being.
Suddenly teamwork becomes crucial just to get through daily life at home. Things like heating food, changing diapers, and covering for each other when one parent needs to catch up on sleep; all require a new modus operandi.
Bringing home baby affects logistics of any household, but that’s just the beginning. The real teamwork comes when you begin navigating differences in the way each new parent interprets the parenting role.
Of course there will be differences. You and your spouse are different people with unique personalities and childhood experiences. The knee-jerk reaction to any parenting choice or dilemma is to do it the way your parents did it.
Two other factors play in – the way you want to do it (the way your heart pulls you to do it), and the way you think it ought to be done, based on something you read, or what you see other parents doing — the mind and the heart. Most people, to some extent, encompass a spiritual aspect, too, and make parenting decisions philosophically, based on religious beliefs or worldview.
When your parenting style differs from your partner’s, you discover things about them you never knew before. Sometimes the differences endear you to your partner. You see how patient and sweet your husband is when teaching your daughter to clean up a spill, for example; while you would have just whisked the child out of the way and done it yourself. Parenting differences can bring out all the reasons you fell in love in the first place.
On the other hand, parenting differences can cause stress, especially when both parents feel strongly about the way they raise their little ones.
As children grow, they quickly figure out which parent is generally more lenient and which one is the disciplinarian. Most couples, if pressed, can point to “the softie” and “the heavy.” People just naturally fall into one or the other camp, for two reasons; personality, and our role as advocates for our kids where we actively play into the dynamic duality required to raise healthy children.
“Is this worth affecting our marriage?”
No question, almost all parents want what’s best for their children, so variety in parenting usually doesn’t hurt the child. In fact, kids work the system as soon as they discover that parents are different. It’s their first experience as social beings, learning that they can effectively interact with different people in ways that affect the situation’s outcome. For example, when mom’s out for the night, they might get by with an extra scoop of ice cream right before bed if they ask dad. That’s not the end of the world where the kid’s concerned.
However different parenting styles can put a serious strain on the marriage, even causing hurt feelings when one parent’s choices are invalidated by the behavior of the other.
The best parenting teams recognize their differences and work together to make sure the kids are healthy and happy. The main goal is to show a unified assurance that the child is loved and that, at least on the big issues, both parents are on the same page.
For little issues, like letting a child dress him or herself vs. choosing clothes for them; variety works, and parents usually go with the flow. Things start to stick when there are major differences that affect the well being of the child or the family. Sleep issues and food choices come to mind. Decisions about some things can physically affect the child for life, or play a role in development and mental health issues.
Find solutions when it matters.
One way to settle differences is to simply air them. If the tug of war is centered on the child, the little one becomes the power pivot in the family, which puts undue strain on the child, as well as the marriage. When you talk through your differences, you’re more likely to come to a unified conclusion, and avoid confusing the child.
For big issues, do your research. Get trusted parenting advice from people you know, experienced older people who have raised good kids; and from books and resources that cite outcomes and effects of various parenting issues. Wisdom often comes from outside the couple, and could serve as a tiebreaker for a couple that’s locked into their own point of view. Creative solutions emerge when a couple is open to them, and may even bond parents together in a way they had not seen before.
Finally, couples should put their relationship first. Taking time to be together away from the home environment and the children centers and strengthens your relationship. Remember that your love and happiness together is how children know love and happiness in their bones. Little details like whether pickles count as a vegetable, and whether to let your child climb a tree before changing out of church clothes; probably won’t matter in the long run. Knowing security and love will.
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